My Printing Frustration with Google Docs

By Deane Barker • Posted on January 06, 2011

I love Google Docs, and we use it constantly at Blend – there’s never a day when a half-dozen new Docs aren’t created, edited, shared, etc. The ability for more than one person to be in a document and see each other’s changes is really amazing.

So why do I still do a lot of writing in Microsoft Word?

Because Google Docs sucks at one pretty important thing – generating decent printed output. I can export to PDF and get simple, clean pages, but I can’t get anything I could actually present to a client.

More and more, I seem to be writing Word documents for a living. I do a lot of the consulting practice at Blend, and a large share of my output are Word documents – proposals, technical briefs, documentation, etc. For these, I need higher-end print features – headers, footers, fonts, spacing, etc. If it’s possible to get comparable output out of Docs, I haven’t figured it out yet.

(Some would say, “Do you really need that level of formatting for everything?” Not for everything, no. But for things I send to a client, yes. On one side I have a client who is paying five figures for a 10-page document, and on the other side I have a Creative Director who wants everything branded just so. To make both of them happy, the printed output has to be fairly professional-looking, beyond the capabilities I have in Docs.)

What we end up doing sometimes is creating a document in Docs, collaborating and sharing it there, then copying-and-pasting it into Word for final formatting. This sucks. Given that Docs does everything with line breaks instead of paragraphs (another problem, but don’t get me started...), you have to fix all the spacing first, then go fix everything else. For anything longer than a trivial document, it’s not worth it.

So, I think there’s a real hole in the market for some kind of “aided printing” function out of Docs. I would love to define a “printing template” in Word, then be able to browse Docs for something to drop into it. So all the content from docs would flow into this Word document and be formatted by all the settings in it, and then I could print.

This would give me decent print output, and also accomplish something we all know is a good thing – separating content from presentation. My actual content would exist in Google Docs in its pure form – just text and headings. All the print-specific settings would be in the Word template.

Yes, there is OffiSync, which is undeniably impressive. It’s a Word plugin that lets you open files from Google Docs, edit them in Word, and save them back. However, I can’t see how it would let me flow content from Google Docs into an existing Word document and have it be formatted as such. Whenever I open something with OffiSync, it replaces the Word document I have open.

I’ve thought about rigging something up at the PDF level. I use Nuance’s PDF Generator Pro, which is a really great piece of software. With it, I can define a PDF template with Blend’s letterhead on it, then “merge” that with another PDF – overlay one on top of another. This would get the letterhead at the top, however, it still won’t fix the formatting internal to the text, or page number, or a bunch of other stuff.

So, that is my dilemma and frustration. I think Google Docs could be so much more if this problem could be fixed. If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

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